How do we relate the stories of Adam and Eve with the historical and scientific information about when humans were created by God?
Father Dietzen's answer:
We have no idea when or how God created the first human beings. Historical sciences, despite their remarkable modern discoveries, still cannot pinpoint when, or even where, the first "humans" appeared on earth. Nor can the Bible tell us.
To see why this is true, we need to keep in mind a few facts about Catholic understanding of the Bible.
First, we believe that the Scriptures teach "solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation" (Second Vatican Council "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation," No. 11).
This means, for example, that we do not read the Bible as if it were a book of scientific history or anthropology. The truths of faith that God reveals to us in the Genesis stories of creation are many, for example. God created the world, including humans, as a free act of his love, and God desires to share his goodness and life.
As it came from God's hands, all creation was "very good" (Genesis 1:31). Later, sin, disharmony and suffering entered the world, coming not from the Creator, but somehow from sinful human pride. Yet, already a plan to restore the original beauty and harmony was in the mind of God.
In other words, we always need to approach the creation stories, as all of Scripture, very carefully to separate what is "for the sake of our salvation" from the vehicles of language and culture -- the images, allegories, fables, parables and other literary devices -- God uses to convey his messages of revelation to us.
The most recent exhaustive and nuanced Catholic document on the "Interpretation of the Bible in the Church" is the 1993 publication of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, with that title. While inspiring the authors of the Bible, it states that God made use of all the ways language can express ideas. At the same time, God recognized the limitations of human language; no human words can ever adequately express any of these divine mysteries.
"Proper respect for inspired Scripture," the document says in its conclusion, "requires undertaking all the labors necessary to gain a thorough grasp of its meaning."
With that in mind, the (Catholic) New American Bible notes in its introduction to the first chapters of Genesis that the truths contained in these chapters must be clearly distinguished from their literary garb.
Forgetting those cautions can lead to some awesomely eccentric beliefs. During the 17th century, for example, Archbishop James Ussher of Ireland, carefully adding up figures from the book of Genesis, determined that the world was created in 4004 B.C.
That's the kind of weirdness that can happen when we try to squeeze the Bible for information it was not meant to give.
37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own."